Identity Cards Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:21 pm on 29 March 2006.

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Photo of Baroness Scotland of Asthal Baroness Scotland of Asthal Minister of State (Criminal Justice and Offender Management), Home Office, Minister of State (Home Office) (Criminal Justice and Offender Management) 4:21, 29 March 2006

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do not insist on its Amendments Nos. 22J and 22K in lieu, to which the Commons have disagreed for their reasons 22JA and 22L.

I note that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, is not yet in his place. However, I wish to speak to Motion A1 standing in his name. I see that the noble Lord has now reached his place. In the best traditions of the House, he is seeking to reach an acceptable compromise in tabling Amendments Nos. 22M, 22N and 22O in lieu. I, on behalf of the Government, will urge my colleagues to support his Motion.

The Commons earlier today reaffirmed their view, for the fifth time, that those applying for a designated document should have their details entered on the national identity register and be issued with an ID card. As your Lordships are aware, this has been fundamental to the Government's approach in implementing the identity cards scheme, going back to our very first consultation exercise in 2002. That approach continued in the policy announcement in 2003, the draft Bill scrutinised by the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee in 2004, the Bill debated before the election, the Government's manifesto commitment, which we established yesterday was clearly understood—at least at the time—by the Liberal Democrats, and all our subsequent debates.

As I said yesterday, during our debates we have conceded on many points. We have moved and moved and moved again, to the point where it is hard to see what more the Government can give. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has persevered in his honourable attempts to find a way somewhere between "must" and "may".

The noble Lord's Motion preserves the integrity of the national identity register by ensuring that the details of all applicants for designated documents will be entered in the national identity register, an issue which, as I have explained on a number of occasions to the House, is key and central to the Government's delivery of the process. This will mean that they will all be afforded the protection that this will provide from identity theft. It will also provide the wider benefits to society by ensuring that attempts by people to establish multiple identities will be more easily detected.

Once the passport becomes the designated document, the noble Lord's amendment provides for a time-limited opt-out for people applying for passports to be issued with an identity card as well. I share the noble Lord's view that few people will opt out. For those who do, while they will not be able to prove their identity securely in a range of transactions with public and private sector organisations, they will also not be required to inform the authorities of changes in prescribed details such as their address; that obligation applies only to those to whom the ID card has been issued. As this has been one point that has appeared to cause some noble Lords concern, I hope that they will take this into account when deciding whether or not to support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, today.

If we are to secure value for money in the procurement process and obtain the full benefits of the scheme over time, there has to be certainty about the number of people registered and the proportion of people who hold ID cards. The noble Lord's amendment therefore sensibly sets a time limit on when the opt-out from being issued with an identity card would end. While the date of 1 January 2010 will add a degree of uncertainty to the Government's plans for implementing the scheme, this will, we hope, be manageable. I note that a number of noble Lords suggested the inclusion of a date yesterday. The debate has ranged around that issue. The date proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, strikes a sensible compromise and is acceptable to the Government.

I have to confess that I have mixed feelings about our long and many debates on this Bill. In many respects, this House has performed its duty admirably in improving the Bill. But its actions in holding out against the clearly expressed wishes of the elected Chamber have put at risk this House's reputation—